Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Facts Remain

Yesterday we left home early to drive to Macon GA and pick up my paintings from the Silent Voices exhibit at the 567 Center for Renewal. It's a 4 hour drive each way so I knew it was going to be a long day but I was excited to get there and hear about how the show went after the opening. I was only there for one night so Beth was there for me interacting with the public during the month of the show.

Artists have a job. Sometimes that job description is about beauty- sharing nature, bringing it indoors for us to enjoy and sometimes that job is about telling truths, provoking thought and emotion, waking people up, educating or making a statement about a particular societal problem. When you put paintings out there that tell a story - a painful, uncomfortable story - it can bring a huge range of responses so I was not at all surprised by the reactions to my work.

There were other first mothers who saw the show and were deeply affected. There were many tears as people related to the poetry and the images. Some of those who were just as deeply touched were coming from completely different experiences, some not even related to adoption at all but were still about loss in a big way.

Some people were curious about the meaning behind the paintings and wanted to learn more and some people were looking from an artistic standpoint.

To me the most interesting reactions were the ones from people reacting with anger. One person in particular was so upset by the images that he called it "crap" and didn't understand how that "shit" could be exhibited.

There was also a group of people very insulted and offended by my work. New City Church shares space in the building with the art center where the show was held. They were so offended in fact that they forced the art center to remove 3 of my paintings every weekend before their services and then they were displayed again afterwards. They censored my show every week in February. That's how uncomfortable the truth is to some people. Which pieces couldn't they handle? Of course the 3 in this post. Every week these paintings had to go into hiding.

Funny how these 3 were the most obvious about the corruption of the adoption industry. I could pour my heart out in the other pieces about the personal price that first mothers AND adoptees pay because of adoption but don't let anyone see anything negative about the industry or any religious connection to it. Do you think I touched a nerve? Do you think there might be more than a couple of adoptive parents in the church? Yes and yes.

It's certainly not my intention to go around insulting and offending people. Anyone who knows me, knows that. My intention is to share my personal story because it's also the story of millions of others like me and most of the general public doesn't know about this part of history. It's the truth for them and it's my truth. My other intention is to make people aware of the other truth- the one about the corruption in adoption. I wasn't merely sharing my opinion. I was stating facts in picture form. What's on those canvases is a visual representation of the facts.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion but hiding the facts, being insulted by facts, being offended by facts, doesn't change a thing. The facts remain.

Adoption is a supply and demand business making $$$billions$$$ for an industry.

I was a little disappointed in the turn out for the opening reception last month but after hearing about the reactions of people since then I'd say I did my job. The work made more people aware and no matter what their reaction was it made them think about it.

I want to say a giant thank you to Beth Smith for curating the show and being there to answer questions and be my voice for the duration of the exhibit. She was not only my voice for the rest of the month but she was also able to add to the show with her own voice as an adoptee. Thank you a million times over for being so strong and taking the leap with me.

So now, I'll continue to add more pieces to the Silent Voices collection and hopefully someday another curator will take the leap.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Well at least.....

Recently I was talking with someone about adoption and the different types of adoptees- adoptee-lite (step-parent adoptee like me), LDA or late discovery adoptee (like me) and of course adoptees who have always known they were adopted.

Anyway, we were having this discussion and I shared about someone I know who found out quite late in life that he was adopted. I felt that what was done to him was wrong. I understand what kind of upheaval that can create in a person's life. When hearing about the adoptee's situation this person's first reaction was to jump to the conclusion that the adoptee was just playing the "poor me" card. Apparently he just needed to choose a more positive outlook on life- look at the bright side- at least he didn't have major medical issues that were compounded by a hidden genetic history. At least he had adoptive parents..... at least.... at least......

I said that I thought this attitude was very dismissive of what the adoptee had been through. I expected more compassion from someone who knows me and knows what adoption does to people. The response was to actually say that he refused to give compassion when a positive outlook could be chosen. It was a refusal to put himself in another person's shoes. It was a refusal to even try to understand the feelings of another.

I'm sorry but that's not being positive or having an optimistic outlook, that's being condescending and dismissive of another person's story and the impact that story has on a life. I understand the importance of having a positive outlook. Choosing to use the pain of my own experience in a positive way is what's gotten me through the last 36 years of living with adoption. I get that! What I don't get are the assumptions- assuming the adoptee is using the experience to play "poor me", assuming the adoptee doesn't have a positive outlook, assuming that the adoptee is wallowing. He doesn't know the adoptee, has never had any contact with him whatsoever but was willing to assume that the adoptee just hadn't chosen the correct attitude.

This is no different than people assuming that first mothers and adoptees are all bitter and angry and should just get over themselves and quit talking about it. If you dare talk about the negative side of adoption you're just wallowing in misery and must have a terrible life. If we would just choose to be positive then of course the industry will fall in line and fix itself. Sure it will.

Isn't it possible to be positive and compassionate at the same time???

Does choosing to have a positive outlook mean that you're no longer allowed to express pain and anger? When you've been hurt, traumatized, had an awful thing happen to you, you will experience sadness and pain. What happens to those feeling then? They get bottled up, shoved down deep to eat away at you from the inside and who knows what kind of havoc that's causing your body. Have you every heard someone say they need a good cry? A cry can be good for you. It's releasing, it's cathartic, you feel better afterwards. What you don't need in that moment is someone telling you that you just need an attitude adjustment. The more positive feelings will happen after you let go of the crap that's built up.

Yes, we can choose to be positive. We can choose to be grateful for what we have and that's hugely important!! AND it's important to recognize the hurt that someone might be going through and empathize with them. Don't dismiss them as just having a poor attitude. Do some people wallow and spend their lives in misery when they can make another choice? Yes. Just don't assume that everyone who expresses pain is doing that.

Brene' Brown said "Rarely does an empathic response begin with- at least" Watch this short video from Brown about empathy and sympathy.

The discussion I had left me feeling sad and disappointed that this person didn't even want to understand what I was trying to say about empathy. I not only felt my friend was being dismissed but I was also dismissed as not having the proper attitude. Living with adoption is not a one time event. It's effects can be felt every single day of your life. You can choose to be positive in how you deal with it day to day and be a happy, productive member of society and there will still be days when it gets you down. Those are the days when a little understanding can get you through.

I think I'm coming to the conclusion that fear is at the bottom of this. People don't want to stand in another's shoes and empathize because that means feeling something painful themselves. It's much easier to wave it away and just say they need to be positive. What they don't realize though is what a huge, POSITIVE impact genuine empathy has for a person who is in pain.